A special CBI court on Tuesday summoned Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal and one of the Essar Group promoters Ravi Ruia as accused in the alleged irregularities in additional spectrum allocation to Airtel and Vodafone in 2002 during the NDA regime.
The CBI had not named them as accused in its charge sheet. But special judge OP Saini said there was enough material on record to proceed against Mittal and Ruia, who were “prima-facie in control of the affairs of their respective companies”.
Others summoned by the court were Asim Ghosh, the then managing director of accused firm Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd, former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh and three telecom firms — Bharti Cellular Ltd, Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd).
All accused have to appear before the court on April 11.
In its charge sheet filed on December 21 last year, the CBI had booked only Shyamal Ghosh and the three telecom firms.
They had been booked for criminal conspiracy and corruption under Section 120-B of the IPC and certain provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which allegedly caused a loss of R846 crore to the exchequer.
But on Tuesday, Saini said: "I also find that at the relevant time, Sunil Bharti Mittal was chairman-cum-managing director of Bharti Cellular Ltd, Asim Ghosh was managing director of Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd and Ravi Ruia was a director in Sterling Cellular Ltd, who used to chair the meetings of its board.
In that capacity, they were/are prima facie in control of affairs of the respective companies… In this fact/situation, the acts of the companies are to be attributed and imputed to them. Consequently, I find enough material on record to proceed against them also.”
When contacted, an Airtel spokesperson said, “We are saddened at the summons. The CBI has asserted they have not found any evidence of conspiracy against any individual whatsoever. We would like to reiterate that Bharti Airtel Ltd and its promoters have always practised the highest standards of corporate governance and accordingly view the charge sheet as an attempt to tarnish its high reputation. The company maintains that it was issued licences as per the policy.”
On behalf of Ruia, an Essar spokesperson said, “Essar Group was a minority partner with the Hutchison Group in various companies which were offering mobile telecom services in India. Sterling Cellular Limited was one of these companies. The day to day management of all of these companies was effectively in the hands of directors and employees nominated by the Hutchison Group. We are consulting legal experts and will challenge this order.”